On the Father, the Prodigal, and The Other Son (Mostly The Other Son)

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

Rembrandt, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”

Most people know the parable of the “Prodigal Son” whether through Bible studies or as an idiom . But here’s a recap from the NIV:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

A regular Hallmark movie, right?!

Not.

Because of the Other Son.

And in real life there is always an Other Son…

The Other Son

Can’t you just see the faithful, steadfast, diligent, hard-working (if a bit self-righteous) older brother, slogging home in the hot, late afternoon sun, from plowing, planting, harvesting. and/or rounding up the herd, sweat dried and caked in little rivulets down from his brow onto his neck, mud thick on his sandals, and, lo, what wafts from home?

Music!

Party music!

As he slogs closer, what sees he?

People dancing, drinking, having fun!

And, sure enough, there he is–that lazy, no-account, greedy, selfish, thoughtless little brother wearing a fine, clean, Brookstein Brothers robe with new sandals on his feet and, as Other Son gets yet closer, he sees the kid’s even wearing some serious rock on his finger!

Not to mention the aroma of prime fatted calf filling the air!

Waitaminit!  thinks he, perhaps adding, I always knew the old man liked him better! and throwing in, “What about ME, eh?

“He’s got HIS fatted calf! Where’s MINE? Not even a GOAT for me and MY friends!

“I plow and plant and harvest in these stinkin’ fields driving a pair of clumsy, smelly oxen over boulders the size of Goliath’s backside every single day of every single week of every single year and the ingrate gets the goods?”…

And perhaps in a miraculously prescient moment (at least in this writer’s wild imagination), Other Son could have added, “And up there? in that picture of the family next to the first paragaph? That whose-its Rembrandt barely colored me in! You can hardly tell I’m even there, that is, IF I’m the one called ‘man standing next to woman in chair’ in the background shadows!”

And he stomps forth…

Or something like that.

The rest is biblical history…

The “Other” Parable

Dad took care of Other Son in short order with The Truth, but if you’re like me, you’re thinking older brother may have taken awhile to absorb the truth.

I can imagine him thinking all kinds of things–aimed mostly at his father–in return, although some of them were perhaps quite unbecoming and maybe that’s why the story ends there. Only family-friendly fare scribed on the old sheepskin scrolls…

I can also imagine him wanting to take a poke at little bro while at the same time feeling just a mite, just a smidge, just an iota (not necessarily in that order) of self pity. But of course he’d never admit THAT!

NO!

FAR better to just hold a grudge for thirty-five years and throw a snear now and then in Junior’s direction, just for good measure.

Or, hey, I could be completely wrong.

Maybe Other Son immediately bucked up, saw the error of his own ways (Gee, Dad, you’re absolutely right! My bad!), stopped dishing on the by-now-quite-famous Prodigal, hacked himself a generous slab of roast beast, scooped up some mouth-watering Mediterranian sides, and joined in the merriment.

Uh huh…

But I think not.

Dedicated to All the Other “Others”

Outside of a few, genuine saints with patience, humility, and grace of biblical proportions, sibling rivalry, whatever the context, tends to repeat itself generation after generation here on this rocky mortal plain.

So I think, yeah, The Other Son had issues (and so do most of the other Others in every era, you and me, for example, maybe more often than we’d admit).

I hope he was able to resolve them, though, because living under the weight of old grudges can add increasing pounds of resentment and rancor over time and put a real crimp in life and in love, not to mention in families.

So I think the parable is also, maybe a lot, about that infamous Other Son and his spiritual kin in all eras, but with a different climax than the Hallmark movies where the money-maker involves the wondrous changes in what are usually stories crafted around antagonists when they realize, at about the ninety-minute mark, “It was her/him all along!”

Then–wait for it–they kiss (under a big, glowing  harvest moon or amid an unbelievably well-lit Christmas set on the back lot), former troubles resolved, relationships reconciled and all of this topped off with a big, fluffy, cinematic bow just in time for the final commercial about the next movie featuring another variation on the same theme.

And in the (only-imagined) sequel, they live happily ever after on fading, yet still elegant, well-lit back-lot sets….

But in God’s script, so to speak, there are many plots, many players, and many resolutions.

God’s Sequel

The sequel is the rest of the story–the real story—where life and love, gain and loss, reveals that things fall apart, bills come due, tragedy dims the pretty lights, the little picket-fenced fixer-upper in the idyllic small town turns into a nightmare of a money pit, and antagonists don’t always reconcile on back lots or center stage.

And here is where the plot thickens, broadens, expands, and where the spotlight is not only on some players, but all, each having his/her role in the drama under God’s direction where, all too often, we abandon script.

But the klieg lights in this post are on the other players, who, like Other Son, are “supporting actors” who might not have the youth, beauty, glamor, and star power of the principle players but who nevertheless quietly, loyally try their/our best to learn our lines, stay trim and fit (spiritually, that is), while we go about our Father’s business.

We, who get lesser billing in the eyes of the world, but our Father’s “wages” (eternal life) are generously given us, too, at the same time the star players go off on their wild journeys, but we remain–and keep working–maybe even a little afraid of going off into the unknown lands where, like the old cartographers wrote on ancient maps, “there [might well] be dragons.”

In short and with little fanfare and no fandom, this group of players stay and do the do’s.

Yet still, like Hallmark movie hopefuls, they–we–wonder if our own star will shine. Sometime. In some way.

I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to get top billing once in awhile and have some Rembrandt immortalize us in a painting–at least a movie poster–for the ages?

For aren’t we also the “once lost, now saved,” too?

It’s only human to look, to compare, to long, toiling day after day in the hot sun of our own pastures, tending the sick, rescuing the lost, encouraging the downhearted…ourselves…

As best we can.

Even though, deep down, we may never be crowned and feted here on terra firma, there might be no celebratory parties on our return, or, conversely, no “send off” prayers and receptions on church platforms like the “real missionaries” get, as we work our mostly quiet, daily, “ordinary missions” at home and everywhere else, there is still One Who sees, knows, and Who has good plans for us.

For in God’s drama, even our humbler stories, more marathon than miraculous, daily than dramatic, there is equal merit. We may not get an Oscar but a crown still awaits…

It’s just that, just now, when everybody parties on for another prodigal coming home, another famous penitent, we can feel the sting of thinking we’ve been forgotten or we are less loved.

While She “Did the Do’s”

A friend of mine, slogging through her own life filled with many struggles and a few mean people to deal with and in some significant ways, once shared this.

After listening to the story of some evangelical bright light interviewed on Christian television who’d barely escaped a prodigal-level life of wild debauchery, then got saved and within a few years had a new life, a new wife, a skyrocketing career, and a best-selling book, my friend looked about her humble home, regarded the seeming tatters of her life so far (some parts of it more akin to Job’s troubles), and lamented.

Even though she knew the value of staying the course, “doing the do’s,” in an all-too-human moment, waching the interview, she cried out to God, “Should I go out and do something wild and crazy so I can come back and finally get some recognition, at least enough to pay the bills on time?”

What she “heard from God” in the ways she hears him in her steadfast walk of many years, that is to say, what immediately, quietly and firmly came to her mind, was: “There is no time.”

I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure, that was somewhere near the start of her ensuing multiple-year, labor-intensive journey to some amazing revelations concerning, well, “time” (ironically) and it’s critical importance in prophecy, that God has uniquely gifted her to both comprehend, research, and present in a format that is just now getting circulated–and just in time, as the prophecy experts are telling us we are nearing the end of “end times.”*

Meanwhile, however, her research, education, diligence, and continued struggle to pay her bills on time through most of it, continued.

And isn’t that the way it is for all of us, too?

Deep down, we come to know the “Hallmark phase,” so to speak, will only be about ninety minutes in the scripts of our lives on earth and then, in contrast to Hallmark plots, comes the sequel thoughout which no one continues blissful under starry skies and harvest moons. Or not very often, anyway.

But we experience God there, too.

For He is as present in the blush of newly-minted salvation and revelation–early starring roles, if you will–as He is in the far more frequent and longer-lasting roles we find ourselves in on the back lots, where the kliegs are shut down, yet, when we continue to look up for God’s direction, His light still shines on us, brighter and brighter, indeed, as put in Proverbs 4, verse 18, “…till the full light of day.”

Because He is always and in every way producing His plan, His plotline for each.

To Today

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

As I ponder this parable, I glean that we are all, at once and at various times, returning prodigals feted and celebrated in that role, and older, diligent sons and daughters slogging through our fields of duty doing our best under only one spotlight: God’s

In each role, however, we experience “returnings” and “reconciliations,” while our loving, longing, generous, and compassionate Father waits–then runs at the site of us coming back to Him–His arms wide, robe and ring ready, feast in progress.

I’ve come to realize that for each of us, He’s been waiting all along, no matter the gravity or the not-so-grave nature of our own fallings away, no matter if we seem the star of the show or supporting character.

For He is as generous, forgiving and compassionate with all.

I would add, perhaps especially for those who, after the rust and erosion of even years of resentment and rancor, can still see the miracles–and the Miracle Worker–ahead, His arms filled with love and forgiveness.

Because…plans.

Or as Jeremiah put it (chapter 29 verse 11):

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

…even if it seems only SOME people get the glory, the girl/guy, the grub, the gold–and top billing.

The truth is, on God’s stage, we all do, in a spiritual, and eternal, sense.

In His time, His way, and according to His…plan.

God’s Oscars

And the thing is, at that time, at the red carpet event of God’s “Oscars,” as it were, we will lay all of our crowns, accolades, rewards at the feet of Jesus, anyway, Who paid the price for all of it, for you and for me, on the cross of His seeming greatest tragedy but in heaven’s story, greatest glory…

Jesus, the real Star Power of the (spiritual show),  “did the do’s” that really matter, for us. And then sent the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, direct, transform–and reconcile–us on our journeys.

Meanwhile, we are all here for such a time as this, playing our essential part in the grand story, the plot that extends beyond into eternity where waits the biggest celebration of all: the after-party everlasting.

Be encouraged, strengthened–and acknowledged.

~~~~~

*view her work here.

Image of The Podigal by Rembrandt from Wikimedia Commons

This entry was posted in Bible/literary themes, Bible/literary themes, elements, Commentaries, encouragement in hard times, most recent posts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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